Power Plant Workers Maintain USW Presence at Oak Ridge

Eight years ago, there were 139 USW members at the Oak Ridge, Tenn., K-25 site. Today, five USW-represented members remain at the Y-12 switch yard.

“By 2023, we’ll be gone they say,” said Local 9-288 President Patrick Hubbard.

He and his four USW coworkers maintain the equipment in the switch yard for the substation where power comes into the Y-12 National Security Complex facility from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

Hubbard and his coworkers maintain the two transformers, the breakers and all the equipment. They test the relays inside the substation building each month to ensure they are in good working order. The substation supplies 161,000 megawatts to the Y-12 buildings.

The five men will stay at this switchyard until it goes away, Hubbard said, and a new substation is built that supplies 13,800 megawatts for the Y-12 complex.

In 1998, members of the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union (now USW) could choose to stay together at K-25, the former gaseous diffusion plant, or go elsewhere at the site, Hubbard said. He said they chose to stay together as Local 288 and clean up K-25.

The Department of Energy (DOE) began deactivation work at the K-25 building in 2002, and demolition work began in 2008 and ended Dec. 19, 2013.

With K-25 torn down, most of the USW members left went with the Oak Ridge Reservation’s cleanup contractor, URS/CH2M Oak Ridge LLC (UCOR), and joined the Atomic Trades & Labor Council (ATLC), he said. ATLC is an umbrella organization of 17 local unions from 16 international unions.

Hazards of the job

“We have high voltage hazards,” Hubbard said. “You have fall hazards because we have to get on top of the transformers, and they are 15-16 feet off the ground. We don’t have to deal with radiation or hazardous chemicals, but we could have a pinch point shock hazard or a high voltage fall.”

He said he and his coworkers do not have to go thru radiation worker training because they do not deal with radioactive material.

“Everyone says we have the better jobs out here,” he said.

Hubbard said his group has gone 18 years without a health and incident or an OSHA recordable, and has only filed two grievances the past 19 years. He credits the union for its safety programs and ability to help when there are workplace issues. He also said he and his coworkers have a good working relationship with the contractor, Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC, and have good supervisors who help and work with them.

“When you’re small it makes it more family-oriented, and we want to make sure everyone goes home and no one gets hurt,” Hubbard said.

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